CFF 2017: Interview with The Lost Arcade director Kurt Vincent

The Lost Arcade, the first film from Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin, takes the form of a eulogy for Chinatown Fair, which was the last independent arcade operating in New York City. But what the film makes clear is that wasn’t the sole reason that the Fair was special.

Each of the customers and employees interviewed for the film lovingly and eloquently recall what the arcade meant to them. It ranges from finding friends, to a safe haven, a refuge from the rest of the world. The sense of community that existed seems organic and recognized as special by everyone who was a part of it. For many, the Chinatown Fair was the one place they didn’t feel like an outcast. Cinedelphia had an opportunity to interview the director, Kurt Vincent, in advance of the film’s Philadelphia premiere during the Cinedelphia Film Festival.

Cinedelphia: What drew you to tell this story?
Kurt Vincent: At first I wanted to find out how a video arcade was thriving in 2011. It was such an anomaly that Chinatown Fair still existed and was so busy. It didn’t make sense to me.

C: What was the most surprising thing you learned about the arcade community or Chinatown Fair while making the film?

K: How diverse the community at the arcade was. I had and still haven’t seen another place with more racial diversity and harmony. I was also very surprised at what video games meant to the people at the arcade. Entertainment was/is such a small part of the experience of playing at the arcade. The competitive games connected the players, bonding them, enabling meaningful interactions and resulting in friendship/community. The games were also vehicles of self-expression and a skill that one could direct their energy towards – something to be passionate about.

C: Arcades seem like an important “Third Place” for youth, especially in urban areas, and the Chinatown Fair is a great specific example of this. How valuable is this community of young people, especially given the relative lack of adult supervision?

K: I think it’s incredible valuable – I don’t think I would have made the movie if I didn’t believe that such a place provided such an important service. The lack of adult supervision was integral to the arcade succeeding. The way Sam, the longtime owner, ran the arcade allowed for kids to be themselves and not worry about upsetting anyone. The arcade was rugged and beat up – so everyone felt comfortable. It was alright if they spilled a drink or wanted to make out some with their crush. It was that kind of place. This type of place is rare.

C: Unlike Indie Game: The Movie, you mostly focus on the audience for video games, and yet the language that players use to describe their experience in and around playing video games is similar to the developers. However, they rarely mention specific games. Do you think this is specific to the arcade crowd, since the games are less plot-driven, and more about social interaction?
K: That’s an interesting insight.  I think it’s likely a result of my editing the story in a certain way. I consciously wanted to take focus away from a specific game and make it about the experience of playing competitive games in a public place – the social interaction around that.

C: Your favorite arcade game?

K: My current favorite arcade game is Pac-Man Battle Royale.  It’s a perfect arcade game to play with friends and I’ve had a lot of fun playing it recently. I wish they added some features to it to increase the competitiveness to it, but it’s great!

The Lost Arcade has its Philly premiere during the Cinedelphia Film Festival, Sunday April 16 at 6:00 PM. Event details and purchase tickets here.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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